The Department of Homeland Security was exhibiting in the Smart Cities Expo at CES 2020. Image: Valerie Silva

On the heels of a request for feedback from vendors about self-screening technology, the TSA and other US federal bodies within the DHS were in full force at CES 2020.

“I’m sure most people don’t think of innovation when they think of the federal government. And that’s a problem,” said Mara Winn, acting director of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Innovation Task Force (ITF) on Monday, while speaking on a panel about the travel experience of the future.

US government agencies, including the TSA, Customs and Border Protect (CBP) and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), set out to fix that problem at CES this year with an unprecedented presence on the show floor, through a series of talks, booth demos and time spent scouting emerging technologies.

“We are here to talk about our problems because we do not solve our problems alone. We look to solution providers to give us ideas that we didn’t even know were possible before,” Winn said at the DHS booth on Wednesday. “It’s also educational for us to see where companies are going and how we can meet them there instead of always trying to play catch up.”

On Monday, the TSA released a statement of work and request for information seeking industry feedback on technologies and processes for self-screening in the TSA Pre-Check area in airports. In the statement, the TSA writes, “In a similar fashion to self-checkout at grocery stores, self-tagging checked baggage, or ATM machines, many patrons prefer an experience that they can complete without assistance and at their own pace.” The government agency is hosting an industry day on February 12 to hear from vendors, and is accepting responses to its request until February 21.

“TSA’s ITF looks at the entire journey from beginning to end, and one of the things we are trying to do is have a very easy threshold for companies to participate with us,” Winn explained. “We’re interested in how to make things better right away, but also how to keep driving innovation in the long term.”

In other travel-related government news, US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao gave a keynote on Wednesday morning highlighting the historical synergies between the transport and tech communities. “Transportation today is synonymous with innovation, and it will be as instrumental in America’s future as it has been since its founding,” she said.


Elaine Chao gave a keynote address on Wednesday morning at CES 2020. Image: Valerie Silva

During the keynote, Chao unveiled the administration’s latest principles for autonomous vehicles, discussed the safe integration of drones into US airspace and spoke of the growth in commercial space travel. “The US Department of Transportation is streamlining launch and reentry and licensing processes to enable further growth in the commercial space sector,” she said. “Some are even thinking about using commercial space launches to go from the western hemisphere to the eastern hemisphere in what would take a few minutes!”

Following Chao on stage was the Consumer Technology Association’s senior vice-president of Political and Industry Affairs, Tiffany Moore, who spoke of the value of bridging the divide between leaders in government and the startup world. “It’s critical that we are having policy discussions here at CES,” she added.